Film franchises are a staple of the horror genre. Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street are just a few modern examples, producing a myriad of sequels attempting to emulate the success of the original film. But if you measure the success of a franchise based on quantity over quality (please don’t do that), there is one that has no equal: The Amityville Horror.
The original film was released in 1979 to mixed reviews but was a box office success, grossing over $80 million in the US. Based on true events, the film told the story of the Lutz family who moved into a house in Amityville, New York where a mass murder had previously occurred. Strange, supernatural events ensue and the couple (played by James Brolin and Margot Kidder) are eventually forced to flee. The film’s commercial success led to a series of sequels in the 80s and 90s tied to the infamous Amityville house, but none matched the success of the original film.
Most horror franchises seem to lose steam after the 6th or 7th sequel with a select few making it to double digits but Amityville refuses to die. At last count there were over 50 Amityville themed horror films released or in production and a couple more were likely added since you started reading this article. The volume of films can likely be attributed to the fact that anyone can make an Amityville themed movie without purchasing rights since it’s based on a real place. Most of the Amityville films have been produced in the last 10 years and have only the thinnest connection to the original film. I didn’t have the time or will to watch them all but here’s a few examples that demonstrate how Amityville films have devolved from horror to horrible over the past 40+ years.
Amityville 3-D (1983)
Back in the 80s it was mandatory to film the third movie in a horror franchise in 3D (see Friday the 13th Part III, Jaws 3D) and as its name would imply, Amityville 3-D was no exception. Gimmick aside, this was one of the last films in the Amityville series with a semblance of respectability. Much like the original film, the story begins with the purchase of the infamous house at a bargain basement price (who knew mass murders devalued a home?) by a journalist (Tony Roberts) who had just exposed some scammers who had been using the house to conduct hoax seances. A skeptic by nature, he thinks the rumours of supernatural activity at the house are an urban legend and he’s just getting a really good deal but much like the Lutzs, he soon begins to regret his purchase.
His daughter, Susan (Lori Loughlin) and her friends, including one played by Meg Ryan in one of her first roles, unwisely decide to use a ouija board to contact spirits in the house which brings forth the evil that lies within…specifically the portal to hell in the basement (you’d think that would turn up in the home inspection). Soon after, a tragic accident takes Susan’s life. Her grieving parents become convinced that Susan’s spirit is trapped in the house and hire a team of paranormal investigators to contact her. The film comes to a climactic conclusion when a demon emerges from the gateway to hell and the house erupts like Mount St. Helens, completely destroying it. Unfortunately this was not enough to prevent more sequels from being made.
Amityville 3-D is not a bad film but it’s not particularly suspenseful either. The chain of events would seem predictable to anyone who has seen the original film and the inclusion of the 3D events seem forced. Compared to the multitude of sequels that followed though, its production values and performances make it feel like the Citizen Kane of the Amityville franchise. A 2-D version of Amityville 3-D is currently available to watch on Tubi.
Amityville Death House (2015)
Amityville themed movies made a resurgence in the last 10 years with close to 20 films using the Amityville moniker released in that period. Most of these films differ from the original Amityville films in two key ways: they have little to no connection to the famous Amityville house and they have budgets that likely wouldn’t have covered James Brolin’s catering expenses from the original film. Amityville Death House typifies these modern takes on the Amityville legend.
The confusing “plot” centres around Tiffany and a group of her friends who stop at the isolated home of her grandmother on the way back from helping out with a hurricane relief effort in Florida. This unnecessary back story is the closest thing to character development in the film. Tiffany is dismayed to find her grandmother is deathly ill and the house is in a state of disrepair. They discover the house and entire town of Amityville is cursed by a witch named Abigail who was murdered by the villagers hundreds of years earlier.
It turns out Tiffany and her grandmother are descendants of the murderous villagers and they, along with Tiffany’s friends, become targets for Abigail’s revenge. The witch’s spirit knocks off the villagers and possesses Tiffany’s friends causing them to turn on one another. We learn that Tiffany is also a witch (proven by the fact she has six breasts?) and she uses her own powers to battle Abigail and try to save her friends.
Like most of the recent Amityville films, the cast is comprised of mostly unknown actors including some I must assume are friends and relatives of the director. I was surprised by the inclusion of verteran actor Eric Roberts in the credits. When the movie concluded, I still hadn’t seen him only to realize that he played the part of a warlock called The Dark Lord who appears in brief segments with his face completely obscured in an odd monk-like getup throughout the film. I can’t help feel his appearance was the result of a lost bet and contingent upon his face being concealed.
There’s really not much else going for this film save for a brief scene where one of Tiffany’s friends transforms into a creepy spider creature but even that was a letdown based on how it is depicted in the movie poster artwork. If you’re interested in checking this one out, it’s available to stream for an appropriate price (free) on Tubi.
Amityville in the Hood (2021)
You know a horror franchise has officially jumped the shark when it moves to the hood. Leprechaun in the Hood did that back in 2000 when it completed its transition from horror to full-on comedy by having the mischievous Irishman take on some stereotypical rappers, pimps and hoodlums. So what possible connection could the Amityville house have to the hood you ask? As demonstrated in previous films, pretty much anything that comes near the house is instantly cursed so when a gang decides to grow marijuana on the property in Amityville in the Hood you know it’s probably not going to end well.
After the drugs end up on the streets of Compton, all hell breaks loose, literally. The possessed weed takes over anyone misfortunate enough to take a puff, resulting in demonic transformations and mayhem. There is very little to the film that is scary or supernatural though. It felt like the director really wanted to make a gangster movie as evidenced by the continuous stream of stereotypical hoodlums and hookers with over the top dialogue throughout the film that seems disconnected to the underlying premise. There’s also flashback clips from other Amityville films thrown in to add some backstory and I imagine, fill some time. To be fair, I don’t think this this film intended to take itself too seriously but it doesn’t really succeed at being comedy or horror leaving one to wonder, what the point is…a question I’ve asked myself after watching most of the Amityville films I’ve seen in recent years.
If this description hasn’t deterred you, Amityville in the Hood is available to rent on Amazon and YouTube (or wait a few weeks and watch for free on a streaming service).
If you still haven’t got your fill of Amityville, check out my review of Amityville: Mt Misery Road from a few years back, a film that’s truly so bad, it’s good. One last piece of good news, Amityville Karen is scheduled to be released later this year and is sure to take The Amityville legend to a new low.